The Lee University and Tennessee Wesleyan men's basketball teams both were picked in the top 20 of their respective NAIA preseason polls this week. One of them will be 0-1 after its first game, however.
They open the season against each other at 7 tonight in Lee's Paul Dana Walker Arena.
Beginning their final season before moving to NCAA Division II, the host Flames are ranked 15th in NAIA Division I. They went 20-9 last year. Mike Poe's Wesleyan Bulldogs wound up 24-10 and are No. 17 in NAIA Division II, and they were picked to win the Appalachian Athletic Conference.
"Poe conned me into this game. It was hard to get games, and I fell for it," eighth-year Lee coach Tommy Brown said, only partly joking. "I should have done a lot better research."
Both teams legitimately should have really good seasons, with their blends of proven standouts and promising newcomers. And each should get even better with the addition of two players after the first semester.
Starting for Lee tonight, Brown said, will be returning senior point guard Duran Blue and big-men classmates Patrick Shaughnessy (6-foot-9) and Steve Bennett (6-10), along with Tennessee Tech transfers Will Barnes and Chase Dunn on the wings.
Sophomores Chad Lee from McCallie and Corey Billingsley from Sweetwater will play a lot off the bench, Brown said, but two other key Flames -- senior Bryce Sharp from Walker Valley and freshman Jervon Johnson from Ooltewah are limited by ankle injuries.
Wesleyan returns two of its three double-digit scorers from last year, Desmond Crisp (18.9 ppg) and Matt Harper (12.3), plus fellow senior point guard E'Jay Ward from Brainerd, who averaged 7.1 assists and 3.2 steals with 9.5 points a game. Another returning guard, Shannon Smith, averaged nine points.
Ward and Lee's Dunn could be an interesting matchup, as each is 5-8, quick and feisty.